The number of hits and user sessions recorded by the Web site for Michigan’s West Coast through the end of June shows the campaign’s goal of boosting the tourism and convention trade in West Michigan by creating a single brand identity for the entire region is achievable, organizers say.
Steve Wilson, president of the Grand Rapids-Kent County Convention & Visitors Bureau that’s spearheading the West Coast campaign, describes the early results as “favorable.”
“The early findings have been very positive. We have made an impact in the marketplace,” Wilson said.
The 1.3 million hits to the West Coast Web site and 59,000 user sessions recorded from mid-April to June 30 compare well with those of similar-sized tourism promotions launched by Longwoods International, the Toronto-based consulting firm hired to design the campaign and conduct market research.
West Coast targeted markets in Indiana and metro Detroit this summer with $700,000 in ads promoting the region.
“While this is just one early measurement, Web site activity indicates that the brand is resonating with the public. The marketing message is stirring interest among prospective visitors,” Longwoods International President Scott Hanson said.
The Grand Rapids-Kent County CVB, following a market research-based approach designed to assure that ad dollars are spent in the most effective way possible, is just entering a process that will include detailed market research and analysis to gauge West Coast’s effectiveness in attracting people who have never traveled to the region to come here, Wilson said.
The results of the market survey will help determine future alterations and expansion of the campaign, as well as its overall success, he said.
“In the end, the proof is in the pudding,” Wilson said.
Whatever the review shows, the Grand Rapids-Kent County Convention & Visitors Bureau will proceed with the West Coast promotion in subsequent years without any participation by its counterpart in Holland. With the Holland Area CVB’s board of directors unwilling to endorse the campaign, and only participating on a limited basis with a promise to revisit the issue in 2004, the Grand Rapids-Kent County CVB is now looking to work with other partners in the Holland area.
“We’re moving forward with businesses and organizations that do endorse it,” Wilson said. “We need those that will be there to actually participate and have a stake in the project.”
The Holland CVB was originally one of four lakeshore travel bureaus — the others being Muskegon, Grand Haven and Saugatuck — that partnered with the Grand Rapids-Kent County CVB on West Coast.
All but Muskegon dropped out last year, citing a myriad of concerns over how the campaign was formulated and organized and that control was too centered in Grand Rapids. When the Grand Rapids-Kent County CVB agreed to form a marketing committee with representation from the lakeshore communities, Grand Haven rejoined the campaign.
Holland later signed on in order to observe the campaign and have representation on the marketing committee in order to gauge West Coast’s effectiveness and its accountability during the first year, and planned to reconsider full participation for 2004.
That arrangement fell apart recently when the marketing committee was disbanded in favor of a steering committee and formation of four subcommittees that will address specific aspects of the promotion.
“They asked us to leave and we left,” said Sally Laukitis, executive director of the Holland Area CVB.
Laukitis said she was surprised when the marketing committee was disbanded and that the Holland Area CVB is committed to other regional tourism promotions such as the “far more successful” Beachtowns campaign with several other lakeshore communities to promote shoreline destinations.
Citing market research that shows 80 percent of Holland’s visitors are traveling exclusively along the lakeshore, and less than one in four is visiting Grand Rapids, Laukitis said the bureau can get a better return on investment for its promotional spending by focusing on its lakeshore identity.
“We feel like we gave it our best shot,” Laukitis said of the West Coast campaign. “We’ll go on marketing Holland as we always have.”
Doing away with the marketing committee, which consisted of representatives from partnering communities, is “kind of a natural progression” of West Coast’s structure and objectives, Wilson said. The move better enables organizers to handle specific tasks, he said.
“Tactical” subcommittees will become responsible for marketing plans, deciding how to fulfill requests for information from prospective visitors, work to have more businesses and organizations adopt the West Coast brand identification, and fund-raising activities.
“It’s getting down to kind of the work at hand,” Wilson said.
Partnering communities will still have representation on the steering committee that oversees the West Coast promotion, he said.
Still, the revamping of the structure has one of the tourism bureaus now participating in West Coast — Grand Haven-Spring Lake — planning to revisit the issue.
“Having a seat on the marketing committee has provided a venue to ensure our best interests are being kept in the forefront,” said Marci Cisneros, executive director of the Grand Haven-Spring Lake Visitors Bureau. “Unfortunately that marketing committee has since been dissolved by the GRCVB, and a newly structured committee has been proposed. Our board will review the newly structured committee and determine how our bureau will proceed.”
In Muskegon, meanwhile, the county’s tourism development manager, Joanne Hatch, said she was “encouraged” by West Coast’s early results and that the campaign is “clearly creating strong interest in West Michigan.”